This story is straight out of science fiction. Ladybird, a laser-guided and self-driving robot, is set to help farmers increase the productivity of their lands by giving them help with automated data collection on pests, crop conditions and nutrient deficiency. She also has a robotic arm to pull out weeds and to help in autonomous harvesting of crops.
For those who are afraid that this new ‘lady’ will snatch manual jobs out of people, chief designer Salah Sukkarieh, professor of intelligent systems and robotics at the University of Sydney, said that it will increase a farm’s yield and efficiency. It will also free up staff from manual labour into more strategic roles such as data interpretation and planning. When Ladybird picks up on early infections, the staff will have time to address threats much quicker than they would have been able to had they been on their own.
Early detection of symptoms and nutrient deficiency is very important in horticulture, say farmers. Often, by the time a farmer sees the symptoms of a disease on a plant, it is already too late. So if Ladybird can flag infections earlier than normal, it will help farmers in taking action quicker than they otherwise would, helping them to tackle the disease with reduced effort and higher precision.
The technology is still in its nascent stages, though, and is yet to become economically viable. Studies are also underway to determine whether the increased potential efficiency of a farm is high enough to offset the effort and cost required to run it using Ladybird.